Boat trip trough Katherine gorge

Sometimes things are just worth the effort – or the detour in our case. One of those things is Nitmiluk National Park, one of Australia’s most impressive outback highlights in the Northern Territory. Sailing through the enormous gorges makes you feel like Alice in Wonderland after drinking the magic shrinking potion.

Nitmiluk National park is formerly known as Katherine Gorge National Park, formerly know as Nitmiluk. The reason for the name shifts is the change of park management. First it belonged to the original habitants of the region (the Jawoyn), then the Scottish explorer John McDouall Stuart came to town and the Jawoyn were forcibly dispossessed of their land. Around 1985 the land was given back to Aboriginals and the original name, Nitmiluk, was restored.  The national park now has a joint management of the Jawoyn and the PWCNT (Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory). We made a joke of the confusing story, since ‘nitmiluk’ sounds a lot like ‘not difficult’ in Dutch: niet moeilijk!

Cool car on the camping of Katherine National Park
We tried to set up the sunscreen for the first time (and last time). It doesn’t quite look like the photos in the brochure, but it did keep the leafs and seeds out of our breakfast.

Cruising through

Our main visit to Nitmiluk (together with 99% of all other visitors) is the Katherine Gorge: a 50 km gorge, carved through ancient sandstone by the Katherine River. Katherine Gorge actually isn’t just one gorge; it consists of thirteen different gorges – another confusing Nitmiluk fact. If you’re coming from Litchfield in the north, it’s quite a shock to see how commercially developed the park is: there’s an air-conditioned visitor centre with food, travel equipment, souvenirs and a little museum that tells you all about the fauna and flora in the park. All this attracts an impressive amount of tourists: they’re camping, hiking, eating, fishing, flying, swimming, touring, cruising, photographing and sweating, in and around the gorges. We join the ‘cruising’ tourists and stand in line for a 2 hour boat trip that takes us to the second gorge and back. The line next to us (cruising+swimming at the third gorge) gets to go first.

Tiny people in big, big gorges

I have to admit I don’t like it too much to stand in line. When there’s no line, you get to at least imagine that you’re doing completely other things than what is usually done by other tourists. But as soon as you get on the boat, you forget the crowd and just enjoy the views. The gorges are both gorgeous and colossal. The boats, the canoes, the people: they all look so small with those 60 meter high cliffs in the background. At times, the sunlight makes it even more spectacular.

Here’s my own video of Katherine Gorge. The Aussie song is a great way to cover up the monotonous voice of our guide who seemed to just rattle off his entire speech. At the end of the trip he sarcastically says ’That’s it, now GET OFF!’ I think he actually meant it…

Eucalypt forest along the Katherine river

Cool rock formation

The first gorge
A viewing platform all the way on the top gives an idea of the size of the cliffs

Freshwater crocodiles nest along these banks and you can see them sunbathe here as well, the guide tells us. Well, you can see them on any other day… it was too hot when we did the tour: the crocodiles preferred to stay in the water.
A saltwater crocodile cage. When the water level is higher, saltwater crocodiles sometimes enter the river. They are caught and removed with the help of these cages.
You can tell that there are saltwater crocodiles present by the teeth marks they leave behind on red balls, that are left floating in the water: the crocodiles are attracted by the color of the balls.
Due to the low water level, we have to get out of the boat after the first gorge, walk a kilometer and embark a different boat to continue the trip. Something that wasn’t mentioned beforehand. For some (like us) the walk is a bonus, for others, it isn’t…

Back on the boat, headed to the second gorge
Snake-necked bird

The sun’s magic touch!
An advantage of a senior group is that we were the only ones standing up and walking around.
The second gorge, known as Katherine canyon. It is said to be the most beautiful spot there is on the gorge system. Notice the tiny canoes on the right?
The average depth of the water in the gorges is 7 meters, but right here below us, it’s 40 meters deep…

And back again

More gorgeous rock formations
You can see why it’s hard to stop taking pictures…
Back at the first gorge where we change boats again.

Not mine but worth to share: Nitmiluk from a helicopter:

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Click here for a related post: the great unwinding road to Katherine